This Dog Looks Funny | Translation
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Translated by MC Editorial
[Daniel Alarcón]: This is Radio Ambulante from NPR. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Let’s start here, at the Central Market in Lima.
It’s an area in the center of the city, full of galleries, shops, warehouses. It’s a few blocks from the Congress, the Government Palace, and the Plaza Mayor. Many people go there every day, to get all kinds of products.
[Ronald Llata]: They sell everything there.
[Daniel]: This is Ronald Llata Sotelo, and he’s 17 years old.
[Ronald]: You can find computer equipment, cell phones, accessories, you can find cages, clothing for animals. You can find everything.
[Daniel]: In February 2021, Ronald went to the Central Market to get sneakers. He had saved enough money to buy them, and although he wasn’t sure of the color or style, his mom told him to go to that part of town. He was sure to find what he was looking for at a good price.
A friend went with him. They spent a while looking at various places, but nothing they saw was completely to Ronald’s liking. After searching for over an hour without success, they turned a corner to look for more options, and came across a street where dogs were being sold.
[Ronald]: It was a very small street. The vendors were standing around casually. They had the animals everywhere, on the floor, they had them in their backpacks, in small bags.
[Daniel]: They offered them as they would any other product, any merchandise. Ronald was curious. He had been asking his parents for some time to let him have a dog. But it wasn’t until early that year that the possibility had opened up, when they moved into a house of their own. So he decided to see whether he would feel attached to any of the animals in that place.
[Ronald]: There were pugs, there were Labradors…
[Daniel]: Ronald walked around a bit until he came to a man who had a dog in a box. He came closer. He couldn’t recognize the breed because it was very young, maybe a couple of weeks old.
[Ronald]: It was gray. It had very small ears, a small snout. I asked him, “What breed is it?” And he told me, “It’s a… like a German shepherd.”
[Daniel]: Ronald bent down to get a better look and noticed that the animal had injuries to its head, leg and tail. He asked the seller for more details about what had happened to it.
[Ronald]: They told me it had been attacked by a dog. I said, “But those head wounds are not caused by a dog,” I said. And they tried to tell me, “No, the thing is that it is sick… and I said OK, OK, just like that. I just wanted to take it with me. I said, if this man keeps it, I’m sure it will continue like this.
[Daniel]: He just wanted to help it, to heal its wounds, so he didn’t stop to think twice. Ronald asked how much it cost, and although he doesn’t remember very well, the man answered something close to 150 soles, which is just over 40 dollars. Ronald made quick calculations: what he had for the shoes would be enough…
[Ronald]: Basically, the person who sold it to me probably did it just to get rid of it quickly.
[Daniel]: Ronald didn’t ask any more questions; he paid the man and took the dog away in the cardboard box. He said goodbye to his friend and went to the bus stop to catch the one that would take him home. But the driver said he couldn’t get on with a pet. It occurred to Ronald that since the dog was so small, it might go unnoticed if he hid it well. So he took it out of the box and wrapped it in his shirt.
[Ronald]: I just put him right under my T-shirt and rolled it up so he would fall asleep and I could take him quietly. And yes, it wasn’t noticeable anymore; in other words, no one looked at him anymore; he didn’t attract attention.
[Daniel]: That’s how he was able to get on the bus, and late in the afternoon he got to his neighborhood, in the district of Comas, north of Lima. As he walked to his house, he thought about his parents. He knew they would be surprised by the dog and thought they might scold him for not buying the shoes. But just then his priority was to treat the animal’s wounds, and while he thought of the explanations he was going to give his parents, he planned to hide it in his room, which is on the first floor. He thought that since his parents stayed on the second floor, they wouldn’t even notice, and he could hide it for a couple of days while it recovered.
So far, this is a story like so many others: a teenager buys a dog without asking and hopes his parents will grow fond of it over time. But this would not be the case for Ronald and his family, because his puppy was not exactly what it seemed to be.
We’ll be back after a short break.
[Radio Ambulante`s Newsletter Midroll]
[Daniel]: We’re back at Radio Ambulante. Our producer, David Trujillo, investigated this story together with Peruvian journalist Ricardo León. David picks up the story.
[David Trujillo]: Ronald and his family came to the Comas district early in 2021. Before that, they lived in a rented house in another area of the city, but the pandemic complicated everything and they were unable to continue meeting the rent. In view of the situation, a friend offered them a house that they could buy. It seemed better to them to have something of their own than to keep up an unpayable debt, so they accepted.
Although it did sound like the best option, the only one in the family who wasn’t convinced was Ronald. He had friends there, and the area was not very upscale. Of course, there was something he did not like about that place—he couldn’t have a dog. This is Maribel Sotelo, his mother:
[Maribel Sotelo]: Ever since he was a child, he always wanted a pet, but you couldn’t have pets because it’s someone else’s house; no, you just couldn’t.
[David]: So Maribel, trying to cheer him up so that the change wouldn’t hit him so hard, promised him that in the new house he would have a dog. It’s a two-story building with a terrace on top where Ronald could keep his pet. And indeed, Maribel’s strategy worked. Ronald came to the new house with the idea in mind of getting a dog—an idea that became a reality a few weeks after moving in.
That afternoon in February 2021, Ronald came home with the puppy he had just bought at the Central Market in Lima. He went straight to his room, trying to hide it before his parents saw it.
[Ronald]: At that time there was my bed, there was a refrigerator, my computer, a desk, and he was under my bed and moved around to other places. Whenever he saw something, shadows by the door, he barked. And the only way to keep him quiet was by making him sleep, so it was hard.
[David]: Clearly, his plan did not work. After a while, Maribel went down to the first floor because of the noises she was hearing. She asked her son if he had bought a dog, and so Ronald could no longer hide it. He showed the dog to his mother.
[Maribel]: It was bald, it looked like, I don’t know, like a little monkey, it looked like a little monkey, it was ugly, really ugly.
[David]: But contrary to what Ronald expected, he doesn’t remember Maribel scolding him for buying the dog. On the contrary, when she saw it like that, so fragile and vulnerable, it made her want to take care of it. She picked it up, took it to the terrace, where she already had some chickens in a pen, and took a wooden plank that she had…
[Maribel]: And I used that to make him a little house. I bought nails, I nailed it into place and fixed it. All closed, now, and I put metal mesh on the front so he could see.
[David]: Maribel adapted his little house so that it would feel peaceful. They wanted to prevent him from running away, and perhaps prevent other stray dogs from hurting him any further.
From the very first day, Ronald was committed to taking care of his wounds.
[Ronald]: I would treat him, I moistened him with a little bit of water and sprinkled him with mother-of-pearl, which helps wounds heal quickly.
[David]: Maribel was in charge of the food.
[Maribel]: I gave him water and his daily food. I used to go up at night to bring him food. At noon, at 1, I also fed him. Since he was a puppy, and a small one, well, I even gave him milk.
[David]: Little by little, in addition to the usual dog food, she added other things to its diet: liver, cooked chicken wings, grilled chicken. Maribel ended up spending more time with it, because the rest of her family had other things to do and she was in charge of making sure that the puppy wanted for nothing.
[David]: That gave her every right—and of course no one in the family objected—to give him whatever name she wanted… or, well, it was pretty much the dog who gave her the idea.
[Maribel]: Every time I brought him food, he would purr, “rrr, rrr.” Every time: “rrr, rrr, run, run,” and then I remembered: Run Run.
[David]: Run Run, time to eat, Run Run, don’t be noisy, Run Run, go to sleep, Run Run, your treatment. Once he had a name, they hoped the bond would become ever closer. Now he would become part of the family, the typical thing that usually happens when a pet arrives; and when he was older and healthier, they would include other calls to the list: Run Run, let’s go for a walk, Run Run, we’re going to the vet, Run Run, fetch the ball… But the truth was that no matter how much they tried to interact with him, play or caress him, Run Run didn’t seem to like it very much.
[Maribel]: He ate normally but… he didn’t play like a dog, no. He isolated himself.
[Ronald]: He walked by your side, as if wanting to be dominant, without any fear. And then when you tried to get too close, he would hide in fear, he would curl up into a ball and hide in a corner. He had like a warning instinct as well, he was alert at all times.
[David]: Perhaps the beating he received had traumatized him. Once he felt more confident, he was surely going to behave like any other dog—like the dog they expected.
After about three weeks, Run Run’s injuries were gone. The mother-of-pearl that Ronald had been using on him seemed to have worked, and his hair was even growing back in those areas. Well, not only his hair, but also the ears, which became more pointed; his snout which lengthened; and the tail, which was fluffing up. He was also changing color: he wasn’t so gray anymore; now he was getting a little more brown… even a little orange.
[Ronald]: The smell of his urine was also much stronger. His teeth were all the same size. There wasn’t a big one or a small one—they were all big.
[David]: Maribel also noticed certain particular traits.
[Maribel]: His ears standing up, his mouth all the way to here, and his teeth like fangs, everything. He didn’t bark. He wanted to, but no, he couldn’t.
[David]: He tried to make some kind of sound that Maribel interpreted as a bark, but nothing came out. She talked to her husband about how strange she found Run Run. The husband hadn’t gotten so close to him—Maribel and Ronald were the ones who took care of him. But then Maribel asked him to go up to the terrace and look at it more carefully.
[Ronald]: He looked at it and said from the smell it didn’t look much like a dog, since Run Run had a much stronger smell than a dog.
[Maribel]: He realized this once he went up, and he said no, that’s not a dog. So, what do we do now?
[David]: But if he wasn’t a dog, then what? To the father it looked more like another animal… something like a… fox. He had seen them many times in the mountains, where he grew up. But Maribel wasn’t so ready to confirm it. She also came from a town in the mountains, but she assures us that she never saw an animal like that… or at least, not a puppy.
[Maribel]: There are none in our village. You have to go far away, a three-hour walk, but people don’t believe that. They say, “How can you not know foxes if you’re from the mountains?” I may be from the mountains, but I have never lived next to foxes. It’s not the same, is it?
[David]: Maribel asked Ronald to find pictures of foxes on the Internet, to see if they looked like Run Run. But the ones they saw there were very orange with a white belly, the typical foxes that one usually imagines when thinking of those animals. And Run Run didn’t look exactly like that.
Ronald searched more carefully to see if he could find an image that looked like him:
[Ronald]: I looked for Andean foxes, and sure enough, Run Run was an Andean fox.
[David]: The photos and the description matched…
[Ronald]: They have pointed tails and have combined colors—gray, black, and light brown.
[David]: An Andean fox can grow to be more than a meter long and weigh up to 14 kilos. They live in the mountains, from Colombia to Chile, in habitats as diverse as forests, grasslands and deserts. They belong to the same family as wolves, dogs, and coyotes.
Maribel couldn’t believe it.
[Maribel]: At first, it scared me. I said, he might bite me or attack, right?
[David]: But reading further, they learned that, in general, Andean foxes do not attack humans, but prefer to run away or hide. They can be seen alone or with others of their species, but they definitely prefer to be active when the sun goes down. In their first months of life, as in the case of Run Run, they are not separated from their mothers, who feed and protect them until they are old enough to fend for themselves. He must have been captured by force for sale, and Maribel and Ronald took care of his basic needs, without which it would certainly have died shortly after.
They looked for more about its diet, at least to know if what they were feeding him was not going to make him sick. Fortunately, they found that Andean foxes like meat—any kind of meat—, so they assumed that they could continue feeding him liver, chicken wings, chicken heads… raw, of course.
But they needed to confirm this with experts and, if they were right, ask them what could be done with an animal that, in addition to hunting, needs a large territory to live… Ronald thought the best thing would be to contact Serfor, the National Forest and Wildlife Service.
[Ronald]: And we started calling as soon as we found out, because I said, “It’s not his habitat, he doesn’t feel comfortable here, anyway, he doesn’t feel comfortable.” And they didn’t answer at all, so I said, “Maybe tomorrow they’ll answer me,” but they didn’t.
[David]: They tried the next few days, but it seemed like no one really cared because they didn’t visit or call back.
[Ronald]: We called like four times and they ignored us. Then they asked us via WhatsApp for our location, phone number, everything, and they didn’t come, they didn’t do anything. They’re supposed to protect wild animals and all, but they didn’t do anything.
[David]: The other option they came up with was asking for help at some of the city’s zoos…
[Maribel]: We have gone to Sinchi Roca and they said no, they were not taking any animals because they were undergoing renovations. We called Huachipa and they did not answer. So we didn’t know what to do.
[David]: By then it was May, three months since Run Run had arrived at their home, and of course he was growing bigger and bigger. He also looked healthy and very restless. Maribel continued to feed him with the same dedication, and although Ronald considered it his pet, and even began to upload photos of him on his social media, he knew that Run Run could not stay with them for long.
[Ronald]: This is not his habitat here. I don’t know if my fox feels comf— I was saying my fox—I don’t know if he will feel comfortable with us. As he is a wild animal, he will want to hunt, he will want more territory, and perhaps he can cause us more problems once he is grown.
[David]: Run Run’s body was showing that he was obviously not a dog, and very soon, family and friends who visited them starting asking questions. When Maribel told them the story and said they believed he was an Andean fox, they told them to do what they were already tired of doing: call Serfor, ask in the zoos…
[Maribel]: Another neighbor said to me, “There is someone in the municipality who is in charge of that.” But no, they didn’t come either. The other neighbor also said, “I’m going to call the police and have them take it away!” “Call them, I hope you call and they pay attention to you”… but they didn’t.
[David]: And since none of that worked, the only option seemed to be to solve matters on their own by taking it out to the mountains. But they didn’t have a car for that, and nobody was going to let them on a bus with Run Run. If it was hard with a dog, with an animal that was obviously a fox it would be impossible. So Maribel talked to an acquaintance who used his car to transport people and parcels to that area. They reached an agreement: they would put Run Run in a well-sealed box, and the man would take him and release him somewhere uninhabited in the mountains.
[Maribel]: So I grabbed him and put him in his little box and all, so that he would be taken away. That morning, he was ready in his little box.
[David]: It doesn’t usually rain in Lima, but just that day, at that moment, a storm broke out with lightning and thunder.
[Ronald]: I was asleep. It was like 6 something, or 5 something. The whole floor was shaking: objects, everything was shaking. The noise was very loud. And I heard a sound from the basket where Run Run was ready to go to the mountains.
[David]: He must have been moving a lot because he was scared, until he knocked down the box where he was. Ronald got out of bed and ran with his mom to see what was going on.
[Ronald]: I went up quickly and Run Run was free by then and scared; he didn’t know where to go.
[David]: It all happened in seconds: when they reacted to try to catch him, Run Run climbed up the hill that is right next to their house, and fled.
[Maribel]: From that moment on, it was so sad, because we didn’t know what was going to happen to him. Another dog might hurt him, or people might beat him or throw stones at him. It was sad because you didn’t know what to do.
[Daniel]: But not only Run Run could be affected. Since he is a hunter by nature, it was not unlikely that the neighbors’ domestic animals—chickens, guinea pigs, cats, birds—would also be in danger. It was no longer just an alleged Andean fox that came to a house… now it was an Andean fox… on the loose… in a neighborhood in Lima.
We’ll be back after the break.
[Daniel]: We’re back with Radio Ambulante. I’m Daniel Alarcón.
Before the break, Run Run, the supposed dog that was sold to Ronald Llata Sotelo and that seemed to be an Andean fox, fled just when they were planning to release him into the mountains. Now a wild and carnivorous animal was running free in the neighborhood, and the neighbors were starting to find out where he had escaped from.
David Trujillo continues the story…
[David]: A few days after Run Run ran away, they began to see him walking around the neighborhood. When they tried to catch him, he hid in empty houses and was impossible to find. People were a little scared at first, because they didn’t know how he might react. Some even threatened to call the police.
Maribel remembers that at one point, a neighbor approached her to tell her that the night before, while he was walking home drunk, Run Run walked right past him.
[Maribel]: The drunk man said, “Ma’am, Run wanted to eat me.“ “He doesn’t bite,” I say. “Oh, I see, but he was here, ma’am, last night. I ran away.”
[David]: What reassured Maribel was that Run Run had never been aggressive with them. He was used to seeing humans, so she didn’t think he would attack anyone. This is Rosmery, one of Maribel’s neighbors:
[Rosmery]: It didn’t look wild because the fox was a puppy. And just standing around playing with the puppies as if it were just another puppy, right? And he’s used to it. He got used to being with them, that’s all.
[David]: Sometimes she ran into him while walking.
[Rosmery]: I saw it pass by my side calmly, trying to approach, and it ran away, right? Its way of reacting. Never, ever did it do anything to me.
[David]: Some people left food on the ground for him, whatever they had on hand, really… Run Run, of course, didn’t refuse. He would come over and once he took the food, he would run away. Maribel asked the neighbors to help her catch him and try, once again, to send him to the mountains.
[Maribel: Several tried, but no one could. On said, “I was about to catch him, but he got away.” Another one too, “I was going to catch him, but I couldn’t.” I also told the boys outside to catch him, but they couldn’t. You couldn’t; he was very clever.
[David]: So Maribel decided to lure him in with food and water. Perhaps the habit of chicken livers and wings would bring him back home. At night she would put some food on the ground for him and she would call. She felt that after taking care of him and feeding him those first few days, he was going to recognize her voice.
It’s impossible to confirm what happened, but whatever it was, it worked…
[Maribel]: From here I called out to him at 10 at night: “Run, come eat! Run!” He would prick up his ears and come, come to eat.
[David]: He also did it during the day. Run Run would come closer, devour the food and then go hide again. Maribel preferred not to get too close so as not to scare him away completely, or he might never come back.
And during the process, it occurred to Maribel that maybe a nearby veterinarian could give her some ideas of how to catch him. They suggested that she put a sleeping drug in the water, wait for him to fall asleep and put him in a cage.
[Maribel]: I bought drops, 40 soles! The man told me, “We use those to make animals sleep when they’re taken on a trip.”
[David]: He recommended that she give it half the drops, but she decided to give it the full dose. Maribel waited… and waited… and waited.
[Maribel]: Oh, I gave them to him and, well, no. Oh, I fell asleep and he didn’t.
[David]: It seems they had no effect on it. Apparently, Run Run noticed the odd taste of the drops at the first sip and decided not to drink the rest of the water.
Run Run continued to live in the neighborhood as if he were right at home, moving everywhere, climbing onto the roofs of houses, playing with stray dogs, eating whatever people gave him. Maribel and her family began to give up the idea of capturing him. They had already tried in many ways and nothing had worked.
But not everyone was happy about him. In late October 2021, five months after Run Run ran away, what Maribel feared so much happened: one day a very angry neighbor came to her house. She told her that the fox had killed three of her guinea pigs and that she had to pay. Maribel accepted; she couldn’t do anything else.
[Maribel]: Later, a lady also came about her chickens, two chickens, she said. That’s 60 soles. What was I going to do now?
[David]: She paid her, too. But then the first neighbor, the one with the guinea pigs, came back. This time Run Run had killed 14 of hers, and Maribel again had to pay.
[Maribel]: That’s when I said, “No, that’s too much. How much am I going to spend this way? Someone else is going to come, and everyone has already started catching one—one about her duck and the other one, my cat.” I said no, that’s enough.
[David]: She remembers that she paid a total of more or less 500 soles, which is just over 130 dollars, for damages caused by Run Run. But that was not going to stop the problem. On the contrary, it was getting worse. And as usually happens in these cases where the authorities do nothing, some neighbor who was dissatisfied with the situation opted for the fastest and most effective way to get attention: call the media.
[América Hoy 1]: A family in the Comas district found out that their pet was not a dog, but a fox. Unbelievable!
Mujeres al mando, [Journalist]: Just as you heard. The son of the lady, who went with the excitement of getting a new member for the family, was sold a bill of goods—or rather, a fox instead of a dog.
[David]: The media interviewed the affected neighbors:
[24 Horas 3 – Neighbor]: The truth is that it eats all the small animals that we raised with so much effort to survive this pandemic.
[Neighbor]: Look, it has taken the entire backyard as its restroom. But it doesn’t do any harm to us, to the people who are here… I have young children and I have elderly adults. I spoke with the owner and she feels desperate because we need help; it needs to be taken to its own habitat.
[David]: They also showed, live, the alleged damages that Run Run had caused…
[América Hoy 1 – Journalist]: And we see, for example, here on the roof we see a dead chicken that has probably been the victim of this fox.
[David]: The media were looking for Maribel to clarify the rumors they were getting. At first, the information was not so clear. They didn’t have a clear idea of the name of the fox, and they didn’t understand how it had ended up in Comas.
[BDP – Journalist]: Here we are, because we are looking for Ron, his name is Ron, he is eight months old, and it was given to their daughter supposedly as a puppy.
[Maribel]: My son, they sold him to my son as a wolfdog.
[David]: One of the first journalists to come was Alexis Romero, from the Mujeres al Mando program on Latina Television. He interviewed Maribel at the door of her house and asked her for the details of how an Andean fox had ended up at her place. This is Alexis:
[Alexis Romero]: Although it is true we did not go out looking for it, I did persuade her to come with me and show me the places where they leave the food.
[Mujeres al Mando – Alexis]: As we can see, here are some food scraps left by the neighbors, as well as by the owner of the fox. We can see a hole here that, according to the neighbors, is also the place where he goes when it’s very cold at night; if it starts to rain, he goes in there.
[David]: Reporters were running after Run Run with cameras. It didn’t matter if he got scared; the idea was to film him however they could.
[Alexis]: Everyone wanted the latest news. Everyone wanted the latest update.
[David]: In some channels, the programming was interrupted to report a sighting of Run Run…
[América Hoy 2 – Journalist]: Breaking news, he just appeared… turn down the music and let’s go to the link with Comas. I am told that Run Run showed up.
[Journalist]: Latest news, the little fox shows up…
[Journalist]: Yes, yes, indeed. We have him back here, he is exactly behind this shed of, let’s say, rustic construction.
[Alexis]: It became news, one of the most talked-about news items at a national and even international level.
[Journalist]: OK, listen to this story: A family in Peru says they got a new puppy, right? Exciting. But it turns out he was really a fox.
[David]: It was the topic of the moment, and people wanted to know everything. In order not to run out of things to say, the media began to make up anything to cover the news. In one of those newscasts, they took a famous comedian named Cachay and disguised him as the character of El Zorro, with a black mask and hat.
]Al Sexto Día – Journalist]: Go ahead, dear Cachay, how are things going in Comas? Are you scared?
[Cachay]: Hello, Moniquita. Here we are with the neighbors, worried about the chaotic problem of the fox that is making a tremendous mess. It has eaten three farms, it has eaten eight goats, four cows, and ten dinosaurs.
[David]: The show where Alexis worked did something else to get the attention of its audience.
[Alexis]: I personally brought a sum of money of approximately 500 soles.
[Journalist]: Mujeres al Mando is present today with this envelope that Alexis has. Alexis has an envelope, there it is.
[Alexis]: Maribel, please, we want you to open the envelope. We know that these have been very difficult days for you and this is a little something from Mujeres al Mando.
[David]: According to what they say, they wanted to return what she had spent for the damage caused by the fox. A decision that Alexis explains this way:
[Alexis]: We help because, first, there are good-hearted people on our team. Second, for television purposes this is useful, let’s say it moves emotions, it contributes to the image and identity of our program.
[David]: Maribel stated in that interview that that money would be used for her youngest son’s education. The show also adopted a dog and gave it to Ronald with the intention of helping him get over the loss of Run Run.
By that time, the situation had almost turned into a circus. It seemed as if the issue behind the situation, which was more serious than shown, had been ignored. Because it was not just about a cute, funny little fox that did not belong there. It was a case of illegal trafficking in wildlife, a dark business that moves money around the world in amounts similar to weapons and drug trafficking, and is one of the leading causes of species extinction. In Peru, this crime is punishable with fines and three to five years in prison.
Although the Andean fox is not in danger of extinction and its population is considered stable, there are other, related threats to it: urban expansion, for example, or there is also indiscriminate hunting and, as in the case of Run Run, capture for commercial purposes—that is, illegal trafficking.
Maribel and her family were caught in the middle of that media show. So many cameras, so many microphones, so many questions were affecting them. The reporters didn’t even let her breathe, they chased her everywhere and at all times.
[Maribel]: I’m the one they were looking for the most. They would find me wherever I was. They came to my house all the time, one or another came all the time. I didn’t feel famous or important or anything. I felt bad.
[David]: Ronald was also affected by the situation.
[Ronald]: It felt kind of stressful. And the interviews here at the door, they knocked on the door all the time, they said, “We are not going to take up much time,” but each of the interviews took about an hour. My mom accepted all of them, but she got tired of it. I also told her to stop accepting them because they are the ones reaping all the benefits.
[David]: But in addition to this media persecution, people also began to insult Maribel on social media.
[Maribel]: It was horrible: “How could that woman from the mountains not know that it’s a fox,” “That woman thinks I’m an idiot to think that she doesn’t know a fox,” “That lady is very stupid…” Oh, a lot of adjectives, but pretty ugly, ugly. I got sick; it shocked me.
[David]: They accused her of being a trafficker in wildlife.
[Maribel]: “You are a bad woman, you traffic with them, why did you bring it? You are going to sell its skin,” they would say. My intention was not to sell his skin, or his head, or his legs, or his tail, or anything.
[David]: Ronald didn’t quite understand why they were attacking her.
[Ronald]: My mom had nothing to do with it. My mom didn’t buy him, my mom didn’t tell me to buy him, my mom had nothing to do with it, and they still blamed her.
[Maribel]: He said, “Mom, it’s my fault you’re in this situation, it’s my fault they attack you,” he says. “Yes, well,” I say, “what can we do? We have to face it,” I say, “what else can we do? It’s hopeless.”
[David]: That was what Maribel and her family were experiencing, but on the other hand there was Run Run… desperate… running everywhere, trying to hide from those people who were looking for him.
[Ronald]: And the journalists came looking for him, they would corner him everywhere, and all they did was make him run away.
[David]: What did seem to have an effect with so much exposure in the media was that the authorities finally came to try and solve the situation. One of the Serfor veterinarians who arrived first was Javier Jara.
[Javier Jara]: I saw the little animal, the little fox walking, playing with the dogs. I see a wild animal that behaves like a domestic animal; his pack is made up of dogs. It made me sad to see that kind of animal like that.
[David]: Javier says that Serfor did not come because of the media, but because someone lodged a complaint on their web platform to report the presence of wildlife. According to him, before that alert they had not received clear information about the true situation of the fox, although Maribel and Ronald assure us that they were very insistent with Serfor to try to solve the problem.
Be that as it may, Serfor definitely confirmed that this was an Andean fox and that they urgently needed to capture it. So they started with an initial strategy: ask Maribel to go with them to Run Run in order to build its trust and avoid as much stress as possible. But just as had happened so many times before, Run Run would get scared as soon as it saw someone approaching, and would run away. Javier blames some of the neighbors.
[Javier]: They prevented it by throwing stones, throwing sticks, scaring the little animal so as to alert him that we intended to capture him, and the animal would see us and run away.
[David]: But the longer Run Run was in those conditions, the greater the risk of being attacked by someone, or of being poisoned, or even of contracting diseases. The idea was to capture him as soon as possible and place him safely in a city zoo while the necessary health tests were done. This is another Serfor official giving an interview about it:
24 horas, [Serfor Official]: Depending on the animal’s condition, we will have to see if it is possible to put it in Huachipa, The Park of Legends, among other zoos.
[David]: The municipality of Comas and the environmental police also joined the search, in the hopes of working together to come up with the best possible plan. Javier says that everyone shared ideas on how to catch him: neighbors, officials, and even the media. But, of course, not all the ideas were good.
[Javier]: They would say, “If it’s out there, why don’t you chase it with a net?” Let’s see you try. The fox can escape anywhere. If you do that to a fox, you create a tremendous distrust in him, and he’ll flee all over those hills, and you’ll never see him again.
[David]: The experts thought of other options. But the one that attracted them the most was the one that Maribel had already tried.
[Javier]: The goal was to try to provide the animal with the diet that it normally ate, which was grilled chicken, and put a sedative in it, right? So that the animal would fall asleep peacefully and be easily captured.
[David]: But Maribel told them, from her own experience, that this was not going to work.
[Maribel]: I say, “It doesn’t do anything to him; I already tried it.” “Ma’am, who knows better, us or you?” “It’s just that I know him,” I say, “if I didn’t know him, then no, no.”
[David]: But they tried anyway, and just as Maribel suspected…
[Maribel]: Nothing, it didn’t work; they waited for him to fall asleep, but no, he never fell asleep. He ate everything and did not sleep.
[David]: All that was left to do was try to shoot a tranquilizer dart at him from a distance. But it wasn’t an easy task either: the sleep-inducing drug takes a few minutes to take effect.
[Javier]: If you don’t know the animal’s movements, where its den is and all that environment, and you use a dart, the sedative may take effect but you will never find the animal because it has managed to hide in a… under a box, etc.
[David]: And the plan to catch him would fall apart. Although… well, that’s the least serious scenario, because it could also happen that when he loses consciousness he hurts himself.
So to avoid any problem, first of all, they had to analyze his behavior very well and establish his moves.
[Javier]: The paths he travels, where the den is, where his latrine area is, where his feeding site is, where his resting place is, where he plays.
[David]: They needed to know all that in order to assess what would be the safest place to shoot the dart.
They drove around the area until they found him. When they saw him, they observed him from a safe distance. Sometimes they stayed all day, with members of the team taking turns to spend the nights. They even decided not to change their clothes, in order to get him used to the smells and so that nothing would drive him away.
[Javier]: That way, we were able to find out, for example, that at 12 o’clock at night, just like clockwork, the little animal came to a place known as La Salchipapería, where he asked for his piece of grilled chicken.
[David]: And so they were able to locate several areas that Run Run visited very punctually, especially at night. They determined precisely the ideal locations where they could shoot the dart. At each of those locations they placed several people in charge of different functions.
[Javier]: Once we had studied everything, we could form the teams and choose the darter team, the veterinary team and the containment team at point one. The same at point two, another group at point three, and so on.
[David]: They also had vans ready in each area to get Run Run out as quickly as possible once he was sedated. A very well-organized operation.
Alexis Romero, the journalist from Mujeres al Mando who had been following the story from the beginning, asked one of the Serfor officials for all the information about Run Run’s search and capture.
[Alexis]: And to make it more picturesque and let’s say, to achieve a better result with my story, I asked him to please let me get into the vehicle. He agreed, and in one of those last encounters I was able to see Run Run the fox walking. I was never close, though.
[David]: Alexis had seen him before, when he started covering the story, and he always seemed very active, running from one place to another, playing with the dogs. But now he was different.
[Alexis]: Honestly, I was looking at an animal that was not in optimal condition. I didn’t see him very close, but I saw him walking a little slower than an animal with a lot of vitality, with its vigor intact, as it should be.
[David]: Maybe it was stress, poor nutrition, maybe he was sick… or maybe all of them together. There was no way to know. The only certain thing was that Run Run could not stay there. At that point, they asked Alexis to go much further off because they were going to dart it, and they needed as few people around as possible. But after a while, his source confirmed that they couldn’t hit the target. Run Run dodged all the darts and had slipped away again.
By then it was November 8, about a week after the news broke. Around 9 p.m., the authorities moved in on an area where Run Run used to stay for a while playing with some dogs. Javier, the Serfor veterinarian, was in another area at the time, but was following the process by radio. He remembers they talked using a code that the team had established so as not to alert people to what was happening…
[Javier]: At that moment, they said “Celeste Explanada o punto uno”. Saying “Celeste Explanada o punto uno” meant that a dart had been shot at point one.
[David]: Not only had they shot, but together with the support of experts from a zoo where they would take him later, they had hit the target. They knew he was going to run away, but they also knew by which route, so Javier followed him there.
[Javier]: And I saw the little animal, well, kind of, more or less sedated, right? He could still walk a little, he moved around, but he was experiencing the effects of the anesthetic in his body.
[David]: Javier moved away a little so as not to cause it unnecessary stress, but without taking his eyes off it. He waited a bit until Run Run fell asleep in an area with a lot of mud and dust, and a steep slope.
[Javier]: It was easy for him to get there and fall asleep. But for us to go down at that time of night in the dark, it was tremendous. I remember I slipped and, well, I scraped my elbow a little.
[David]: He approached Run Run, took off his jacket and picked him up.
[Javier]: The first thing I did when I picked him up him was check his vital signs. Breathing had to be checked. Whether he had, say, any kind of secretion, check the area where the dart hit, which was the right rear leg. Check his heartbeat, see also if he was well sedated or not, because this sedative or this anesthetic can last more or less 40 minutes from the moment of injection.
[David]: When he was sure that it was stable and well sedated, Javier, with great effort, carried it up to a flatter area where the truck was. There they put him in a cage to take him quickly to the zoo and begin more detailed examinations.
At the time, Maribel didn’t know anything. She was at home cooking and went out to the store for a moment to buy something. Suddenly the neighbors started yelling.
[Maribel]: “They are taking Run, they are taking Run! Ma’am, they took Run away.” So fast?
[David]: Maribel ran to see what was happening. Ronald, who also heard the yelling, went out. But it was too late.
[Maribel]: We ran, but we didn’t make it; they took him away. My son began to cry, the neighbors were crying.
[Ronald]: Yes, because they took him away without saying anything at all. The police do whatever they want. Well, the people from Serfor do whatever they want, and that’s it.
[David]: Maribel remembers that Ronald was heartbroken and would not stop crying. He hadn’t managed to say goodbye to the little animal that had been his pet.
[Maribel]: “But why didn’t they tell me? Why not…?” “They couldn’t, son,” I say, “because you know that Run is very intelligent and very skillful. Soon, soon the anesthesia will wear off and he’s going to wake up, so it’s better that they take him away quickly,” I told him.
[David]: And Maribel was right. The fewer people there were, the better. That way they could take him away quickly and get him to safety.
Run Run arrived at the Park of Legends Zoo that night. He was very sleepy, so they let him rest, but in a space isolated from the rest of the animals to avoid any contagion.
As could be expected, the news began to come out on the media…
[Journalist]: Very quiet and in good condition. These are the images of Run Run, the little fox in a cage, entering what will be his new home: El Parque de las Leyendas.
[Journalist]: The most famous fox of the day was transferred to Parque de las Leyendas, in San Miguel. His adoptive family and his neighbors say they feel sad after Run Run’s departure…
[David]: Over the days, and thanks to the tests they did, they found out several things. First, that he was infested with fleas and ticks. It was the most logical thing, after spending so much time with stray dogs. They also noticed that his fur, in addition to being very dirty, was dull, and his mucous membranes felt dry. Those were clear signs that he was sick.
[Javier]: And the tests showed he had severe anemia. Also an infection by a haemoparasite, that is, by an intracellular parasite that is in the blood and that we know is typical of domestic dogs.
[David]: If left untreated, this parasite ends up destroying the bone marrow. In addition, the tests revealed that at some point he probably had something very dangerous that is popularly known as distemper. When the animal is not vaccinated, there is a very high probability that this disease will kill it. Fortunately, everything seemed to indicate that Run Run had already gotten over it.
So they immediately put him in treatment for everything he had, and he continued to be quarantined. Not even Maribel could see him when she went there to ask how he was doing. A zoo official explained the reason.
[Maribel]: They fear, because he knows me and I can call him. If you talk to him, he will recognize you and he will feel bad, he will want to go out and look for you. He can get sick, he told me. I started crying and just went home.
[David]: It all started in the most innocent way. Instead of buying sneakers, a teenager became attached to a sick animal and wanted to take care of it. Heal it. Fulfill his dream of having a pet. But it all got out of hand.
[Maribel]: It’s not that you want to hurt animals. You feel bad because, no, you don’t have bad intentions, but sometimes things have to happen and that’s how you learn. You learn from your mistakes, as they say.
[David]: But it wasn’t their mistake. Maribel and Ronald are also victims of illegal trafficking in species. They wanted to save a supposed puppy that was in a very bad state, but it ended up being something different: a specimen of an illegally trafficked species that could not live with them under any circumstances. If they had known from the beginning that it was a wild animal, the story would probably have been different.
The good news is that Run Run was recovering very well, and after a month the test results showed that he was on the right track. But, although during the entire odyssey of search and capture there had been talk of releasing him into the mountains, its natural habitat, that possibility vanished.
[Javier]: We have to know what population he comes from, because if we release for the sake of releasing, or release a fox that is genetically different, he will disturb the population and, of course, you will benefit the specimen, that is, the individual animal. But it is a detriment to the species at the population level.
[David]: Since it was impossible to know what specific area Run Run came from, the authorities preferred not to release him so as not to put any population of Andean foxes at risk.
And that is another serious consequence of illegal trafficking in species: it ends up condemning a formerly free specimen that to spend the rest of its life in captivity. In this case, Javier said, Run Run would be in a good place, with good food, healthy, in adequate and spacious areas… but nonetheless confined.
Although it is a more or less good ending to this story, not all animal victims of this crime end up like this. The case of the most trafficked species in Peru is terrible. It’s called the yellow-winged pihuicho, and it’s a parrot that is taken from the Amazon and eventually sold as a pet. The worst thing, according to Javier, is that they capture about ten parrots and they die on the way to the city, until only one remains, the one that is more or less stable. And that’s the one they sell.
[Javier]: But just picture it. In other words, for there to be hundreds of them here, how many thousands have had to die, and die daily, unfortunately, due to all this.
[David]: Javier says that in Peru the same thing happens with species like the tortoise, the Titicaca frog—which is usually sold dead as a supposed remedy—, the red-headed parrot, the blue and yellow macaw, the woolly monkey, the lion monkey, the friar monkey, the iguana… and the list goes on and on. Almost daily, he says, they have to rescue wild animals in the middle of the city and punish those involved. But there are other places that are very difficult to control.
[Javier]: Now there’s an increase in the sale of wildlife electronically, through social media, where there are private groups and they sell a specimen to the highest bidder. I have always said that if there is trafficking, that’s because there is a demand.
[David]: And this demand makes it a vicious circle, almost impossible to close. There is still much work to be done and a long way to go so that no animals like Run Run are taken from their habitat and forced to live in conditions in which they were never supposed to live.
[Daniel]: In March 2022, Run Run was transferred to a zoo in Cajamarca, in the north of the country. According to Serfor, this area has conditions similar to those of its natural habitat. His life expectancy in captivity is greater than that of a wild Andean fox. That means he could live 15 years or even more.
Thanks to this case, in June 2022, the Peruvian Congress approved a law that, among other things, toughens the penalties and fines for those who traffic with wildlife.
And as a true Peruvian character, Run Run has his song… It’s called “Ay mi zorrito Run Run,” and it’s by the JCH Orchestra.
David Trujillo is a senior producer for Radio Ambulante and lives in Bogotá. He reported this story with Peruvian journalist Ricardo León, editor in El Comercio. He lives in Lima.
This episode was edited by Camila Segura and me. Desirée Yépez did the fact-checking.
The sound design is by Andrés Azpiri with original music by Ana Tuirán.
The rest of the Radio Ambulante team includes Paola Alean, Nicolás Alonso, Lisette Arévalo, Pablo Argüelles, Aneris Casassus, Diego Corzo, José Diaz, Emilia Erbetta, Camilo Jiménez Santofimio, Selene Mazón, Juan David Naranjo, Ana Pais, Laura Rojas Aponte, Natalia Sánchez Loayza, Bárbara Sawhill, Bruno Scelza, Ana Tuirán, Elsa Liliana Ulloa and Luis Fernando Vargas.
Carolina Guerrero is our CEO.
Radio Ambulante is a podcast by Radio Ambulante Estudios, produced and mixed on the Hindenburg PRO program.
Radio Ambulante tells the stories of Latin America. I’m Daniel Alarcón. Thanks for listening.